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Unsung and undaunted, call Bills defenders the Anti-Marios

The request was made, but no one was the least bit surprised when the Dolphins' Mario Williams declined an opportunity to speak with the Buffalo media on Wednesday.

Williams rarely performed his duty on Media Day during his four-year run as the highest-paid player in Bills history. Did anyone really expect him to jump on a conference call and discuss his dubious effort a year ago in Rex Ryan's first season?

There was no sign of Mario, no discernible impact, which was like many of his games as a Bill, when he went through the motions at a cool $1 million a game. He is the single most uninspiring and uninspired athlete I have covered in 40 years in this business.

Despite his uneven play, I figured the Bills would miss him, at least his good days. They have not. In a classic case of addition by subtraction, the defense has been better without Williams – not to mention that other overpaid and undermotivated D lineman, Marcell Dareus.

The Bills' recent success is a testament to their competitive will and character. It's a team filled with players who were unheralded, underpaid and, in some cases, undrafted.  Many of the players on the roster – and that includes the likes of Tyrod Taylor, Kyle Williams and Preston Brown – feel they have something to prove.

That can be a formidable quality for a team, especially a defense that has a bunch of no-names playing at a high level. To me, they're the Anti-Marios. Nickell Robey-Coleman,the chatty and relentlessly optimistic defensive back, could be captain.

Robey-Coleman, an undrafted free agent in 2013, has beaten the odds to survive at 5-8, 165 pounds in a sport populated by athletic freaks and giants. With the Bills on their first four-game winning streak in eight years, he spoke of "adding to the fire, making it bigger and stronger."

That fire, doesn't a lot of it come from players who feel they have something to prove, I asked him? Look around. Is that a motivating factor in this locker room?

"Yes, yes, yes," Robey-Coleman said. "Yes it is, especially for me. I came in, had to compete my tail off every day. Sweating with my teammates, being with my teammates, and seeing how big their hunger was, it made my hunger even bigger.

"This ain't a team that's got all the first-rounders and all the hype," he said. "Sometimes, you don't need the best players, you just need some hungry guys that's going to do what they got to do."

Robey-Coleman leads the NFL in defensive touchdowns (two). Lorenzo Alexander, an 11-year veteran who wasn't drafted, got a chance to start at linebacker when Shaq Lawson went down and leads the league with eight sacks. Zach Brown, another free agent, is second in the NFL in tackles. None of those three has a base salary over $1 million.

"These guys aren't eating with forks and knives," Robey-Coleman said. "These guys are eating with their hands. They're going down and getting it. It ain't nothing pretty down there. Everybody's trying to get it."

It's not just the defense. Offensive tackle Jordan Mills played on three teams last season. He found a home with the Bills and has solidified the right side of the line. Left guard Richie Incognito has some experience with the ugly side of the sport, having missed a year and a half of his career because of a bullying scandal in Miami.

"I think we have a chip on our shoulder, just by the nature of everyone's personalities," Incognito said. "But being 0-2 made everybody lock back in and focus. We didn't feel sorry for ourselves. We just got back to work and kept grinding."

"Rex gives us Victory Monday and the entire team is here on Monday watching film," he said. "We have the right mindset. We're hungry. I really think the 0-2 start was a blessing in disguise, because it showed us, this thing can get away from you real quick."

Mills said they heard it when people wrote them off at 0-2. Same old Bills, 16 years without playoffs going on 17. He said they used the outside skeptics as motivation. Mills played on four teams in two years before finding a home in Buffalo.

"Everybody in this organization has been doubted at some point," said Mills. "I've been doubted my whole life. But it doesn't matter. It only matters what I do and how I act from all the negative stuff. When you mature in this league, you learn not to listen to it.

"We can't take anything for granted."

Presumably, that includes Sunday's game in Miami, which was reeling at 1-4 before stunning the Steelers last weekend. The Dolphins, who will be playing a third straight game at home, are a dangerous opponent -- particularly if Mario Williams plays with rare passion against Ryan, whose system he found unsuitable a year ago.

Ryan miscalculated his defense a year ago. He tried to force his system on a bunch of veterans who weren't ready for it. They all complained at one point or another. But Williams was the one who used it as an excuse to check out on the season.

He won't say it directly, but Ryan takes frequent oblique shots at Williams. When he talks about this year's players buying in completely, or jokes about a defensive lineman being willing to drop into coverage rather than rush the passer, he's taking a swipe at Mario.

"We have a lot of great team guys," Ryan said. "There's no question about that. And some veterans that have been through the ups and downs. It's never smooth, never for me at least. I've never been on a team where it's 'Oh, man, we've just got to show up and win and everything's great and everything goes according to plan'."

Ryan agreed that it can be easier to convince a team not to look ahead, to sell them on the old "one game at a time" cliche, when a lot of them are hungry to prove themselves and find security in a brutal, often insecure profession.

"We don't take anything for granted," Robey-Coleman said. "We play for the name on our back and the shield on our chest. That's what it's about. The competition is so strong and competitive right now. No free lunches here."

No forks and knives either, not for the Anti-Marios.

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